MANILA — The Philippines has enough rice to keep prices manageable, a lawmaker from rice-producing Nueva Ecija province said Sunday as she attributed increases to wholesale rice traders.
Speaking on TeleRadyo Serbisyo on Sunday morning, Nueva Ecija Rep. Rosanna "Ria" Vergara acknowledged that a government price cap on regular milled and well-milled rice has hurt farmers and smaller traders, and said she hopes prices stabilize and that the policy imposed on Sept. 5 will be lifted soon.
Citing discussions at a recent House hearing, Vergara said the Philippines has already imported two million Metric Tons (MT) of rice from Vietnam.
A second harvest of locally-grown rice in September and October will mean "we will have excess rice in the amount of 2.4 million MT" at the end of the year, she said.
Vergara, a member of the House agriculture panel, said that even with El Niño forecast to affect the country in March to April 2024, "the government has prepared for that... walang dahilan para tumaas ang presyo nito."
Some wholesalers 'taking advantage'
Stressing that there is no shortage, Vergara said there is no reason for wholesale traders to raise prices further.
"Kung ano 'yong presyo noong June, July, dapat doon lang kayo naglalaro," she said.
She said that wholesalers should not cite recent typhoons and tight global supplies to justify increases.
"Itong mga external factors na wala namang kinalaman sa ating supply dahil preparado ang gobyerno na sapat ang ating bigas hanggang matapos pa nga ang El Niño," said Vergara.
(These external factors don't have anything to do with our supply because the government made preparations to have enough rice until the end of El Niño.)
She said that rice in warehouses are from the last planting season, when, according to her, farmgate prices were at P19-P22 a kilogram for wet palay and P25 a kilogram for dry palay.
"Talagang yung break-even nila ay mga P38, so dapat ibenta lang nila yan mga P40, P41 pinaka-mataas," she said.
(Their real break-even point is around P38, so they should be selling at P40 or P41 at most.)
Price caps affect farmers, small traders
Executive Order No. 39, which caps regular milled rice at P41 per kilogram and well-milled rice at P45 a kilogram, took effect on Sept. 5 and was welcomed by consumers but prompted the government to distribute subsidies of up to P15,000 to affected retailers.
"Admittedly, maraming vendors, kahit dito sa aking distrito — dito sa Cabanatuan — umiiyak sila na 'kahit tulungan kami ng P15,000 hindi sapat 'yan'. 'Bumili po ako ng 200 cavans at P50 (per kilo).' You know, how far will P15,000 go?" Vergara said.
(Admittedly, many vendors are crying, even in my district. They say, 'Even if we get P15,000 in aid, that isn't enough.' 'I just bought 200 cavans at P50 per kilo.')
She added that farmgate prices of palay have gone down since the price cap was announced.
"Napakaganda ng bentahan ng palay dito, umaabot P22-P25, ngayon pahirapan — P15-P17. Ang ginagawa ng mga trader, sinasabi nila na 'may price cap kaya dapat mura ibenta 'yan para mabili namin.' Kung hindi, hindi bibilhin, so nakakaawa po yung magsasaka."
(Palay was selling for P22-P25, but now, it has become difficult. They want to buy at P15-P17. The traders say 'there is a price cap so you have to sell low or we won't buy.' If farmers don't agree, then they won't buy it.)
Vergara said the National Food Authority should be given back the mandate to buy rice from farmers and sell subsidized NFA Rice to make rice more accessible.
The NFA should maintain rice stocks that it can use to stabilize prices if there are signs of price manipulation, she suggested.
"Naiintinidhan ko po, ang aking dasal ay sana hindi magtagal itong price cap na ito para hindi naman gobyerno ang mag-subsidize ng mahal na pagbenta ng mga wholesalers," she said of small retailers' woes.
(I understand, and I pray that this price cap will not last long, also so the government doesn't subsidize the high selling prices of wholesalers.)